There’s a strong current of contemporary thought which posits that “doing something” about climate change is compatible with robust economic growth. And it’s not just environmental lobbyists spouting off about “green jobs”; no less an eminence than Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has averred that,
Climate despair is all wrong. The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception. If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines.
Recent Japanese history presents a grand, albeit tragic, case study into whether greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth have indeed decoupled. In addition to being a humanitarian and ecological disaster, the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crisis also spawned an energy crunch. A significant amount of supply, the equivalent of 9 average-sized American coal power plants, was lost in the disaster.
Before the Fukushima incident, Japan had been at the forefront of global climate change mitigation policy. As such, it is safe to presume that Japan in 2011 possessed a mindset to replace its lost nuclear capacity with low/no-carbon energy. Accordingly, in the immediate wake of the meltdown, Prime Minister Naoto Kan emphasized that solar and wind power would meet the country’s demand.
So, in mid 2011, we had a green-minded, developed country in need of energy overhaul. Thus, Japan’s post-Fukushima experience offers an opportunity to test Prof. Krugman’s thesis. If fighting climate change is cheap and easy, then Japan should’ve gone green.
And after almost three and a half years … the state of the Japanese electricity sector puts the lie to Paul Krugman and like-minded green energy enthusiasts. As reported last week by Reuters, utilities in Japan are burning a record amount of coal, and they intend to increase coal capacity by a further 40 percent, climate be damned. According to reporters Aaron Sheldrick & Osamu Tsukimori, “Japan’s appetite for cheap coal, to counter a soaring oil and gas bill after the nuclear shutdown, saw it import a record 109 million tons of coal in 2013.”